314 mass shootings have taken place in the U.S. so far, and experts predict the number to continue rising in the latter half of 2022. At a time of recurring mass shootings, public security is at an all time high,with the public being on high alert.
Mass shootings pose devastating effects that extend from victims to families, and the wider community. It creates anxiety, grief, despair and hopelessness to name a few. We may question these events and attempt to seek closure from them, to no avail. In spite of the chaos and sorrows that plague us, the human mind often finds ways to cope with the loss. Many have bounced back from the tragedy through resilience and compassion. If you are recovering from the loss of a loved one to mass shootings, or are affected by the ongoing events, here are several things you can do to manage your negative feelings.
Allow yourself to feel
Embrace the full range of emotions that you are experiencing, this includes negative emotions such as pain, shock and anger. These emotions symbolize our response to the losses and the tragedy. Do not rush the healing process and fake recovery. Rather, take time to process these emotions. If you are overwhelmed by the deluge of emotions that greets you, take some time off from them.
Limit your exposure to media
Keeping up with the news is a great way to stay in touch with current events, but over-exposure to negative news can potentially hinder the recovery process and intensify feelings of anxiety and despair. Maintain a balance in your daily news consumption to ensure you do not relapse into a cycle of unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Self-care is defined as the act of taking action to preserve your health and wellbeing. Examples of self-care may include establishing a regular routine in life such as having meals on time and getting sufficient sleep are two of the most important yet overlooked routines in life. As time goes on and one feels comfortable with the routine, they may introduce more activities to return normalcy to life. Other self-care behaviors include:
● Keeping yourself hydrated
● Practicing healthy eating
● Engaging in stress-relieving activities i.e. Taking a walk in the park
● Interacting with others
Even limiting exposure to the media is a form of self-care. Self-care is all about introducing small but powerful behaviors that gradually add up to form a holistic and whole individual again, which then returns normalcy to our lives. Therefore, its importance should never be overlooked.
Talk about your feelings
A strong, robust social support system is an important component in coping with traumatic losses and grief. Having people who can offer their ears or shoulders to you is vital in these tough times. Speak to them about your feelings and problems.
Keep a diary or journal
A journal is helpful in monitoring and tracking your emotions throughout the day. This will help you identify the potential triggers to a panic attack, or fearful thoughts and allow you to prevent it from happening.
It’s okay to tell yourself that nothing is certain. When in doubt, tell yourself these three words - “I don’t know”. Instead, focus on the present and allow yourself to tackle each day one step at a time, or mindfulness. A great way to attain mindfulness is to practice meditation or pick up yoga to de-stress yourself. Even stepping outside of your home to look at the greenery, enjoying your food are examples of being present and mindful. Learn to be attuned to your senses.
Practice active coping
Active coping can be another great way to help manage the stress and fear that comes along with mass shootings. Some examples of active coping include:
● Volunteering at a crisis center
● Participating in parents-teacher meetings
● Active protesting against gun violence
● Reaching out to other individuals who have been affected on a similar scale
Active coping provides a purpose in our lives, and creates a healthy avenue for us to channel our grief and anxiety.
What if I have children who were victims of mass shootings?
Children will look to their parents for support in these times, even more so if they were directly affected by the tragedy. Apart from what we’ve discussed above, here are additional tips to help guide and care for a traumatized and grieving child further.
Talk to them about it
As parents, we should help our children make sense of their surroundings and understand what is going on around them in a delicate manner. Spend time talking to your children about what happened at school or in the community. Provide a safe space for them to express their feelings, and correct any misinformation or misconceptions they may have about the situation. Sometimes, children may raise difficult questions such as:
● “Why did the person shoot kids?”
● “Why do people do that?”
● “Were they sad/angry?”
● “What happens to the people who were shot?”
● “Will there ever be a shooting in school again?”
You do not need to have answers to every question, but remember to reassure your kids that you will be there for them.
Check in often
Check in on your children every now and then to get a sense of what they’re feeling and where they’re at. Always be open to having the same conversations again, and be ready to reaffirm your children of your presence whenever necessary.
Be genuine in your conversations
Children can tell when you are not yourself during conversations. Strive to be present, relaxed and authentic during these times. Doing so will help your child ease into the topic, and enable them to respond in a psychologically healthy manner.
Take note of signs of anxiety, stress and fear
A child may develop short periods of maladaptive behaviors to cope with the trauma. During these times, you may notice a change in your child’s behavior that includes:
● Excessive clinging to one’s parents
● Having troubles sleeping
● Avoidance towards school
● Refusal to complete homework
These behaviors, while normal to an extent, should be addressed if it disrupts your child’s daily life for a long time. Find an appropriate time to talk about them, help your child develop the necessary empathy and kindness to address these behaviors. Maladaptive behaviors will resolve on their own in four to six weeks, if no other traumatic events happen in that timeframe. Some children may take longer to recover, should these behaviors persist for an extended time, consider seeking professional help.
Know when to seek professional help
Do not be afraid to seek a therapist or a mental health professional if your emotions become overwhelming for you. If cost is an issue, know that there are numerous local hotlines that you can reach out for support. Additionally, try searching for support groups or pro-bono services for families affected by the mass shootings online.
Recovering from a trauma is never easy. It takes courage to face these fears. The goal is to return normalcy into our lives, and help an individual to be whole again. During this period, we encourage people to have patience and compassion, both to themselves and the people around them.